South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2020

South Korea tightens border checks as domestic transmission of coronavirus abates

  • The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday
  • Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran

SEOUL: South Korea said on Tuesday it plans to tighten border checks for all arrivals from overseas to prevent new cases of coronavirus coming into the country at a time when domestically transmitted infections are subsiding.
The stricter checks for all arrivals will start on Thursday and come as China also stepped up monitoring of foreign travelers, in the latest sign of the pandemic’s shifting center of gravity from Asia to Europe.
“We’ve assessed that there’s a need for universal special entry procedures for all arrivals, given rapid increases in new cases not only in Europe but also in the United States and Asia in the wake of the pandemic,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 84 new coronavirus cases as of Tuesday. It was the third day in a row that the county has reported fewer than 100 new infections, raising hopes that Asia’s largest outbreak outside China may be easing.
The new numbers are well below a Feb. 29 peak of 909, and bring the country’s total infections to 8,320, the KCDC said. The death toll rose by two to 81.
There are 55 cases involving infected travelers, including eight foreign nationals, up from 44 recorded on Sunday. The other 47 are South Koreans, 27 of whom came from Europe, as well as 16 from China and another 12 from other Asian countries, KCDC deputy director Kwon Jun-wook said.
Seoul has already imposed strict border checks on visitors from China, Italy and Iran, requiring them to sign up by a smartphone application to track whether they have any symptoms such as fever.
Asked whether the government was considering closing borders, Kwon said the current efforts make a “very rational and reasonable policy for the time being.”
“It is much more important to stick to our fundamental efforts to find, quarantine and treat patients and examining links of infections,” he told reporters.
President Moon Jae-in has said he was increasingly confident South Korea would overcome the virus as the rate of new cases continued to drop.
Another 264 patients were released on Tuesday from hospitals where they had been isolated for treatment, bringing the total to 1,401, the KCDC said. South Korea reported more recoveries than new infections on Friday for the first time since its outbreak emerged in January.
Testing and treatment of patients is nearing completion in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, home to a fringe Christian church that was at the center of the outbreak in South Korea.
But authorities renewed warnings against clusters that continue to emerge, especially in the greater Seoul area.
The education ministry on Tuesday postponed the beginning of all schools’ new semester by another two weeks to April 6, citing concerns about infections in smaller clusters.
At least 134 cases have been linked to a Seoul-based call center whose 800-strong workforce is being tested or in quarantine.
In Seongnam, south of Seoul, 47 members of a Protestant church have tested positive, including the pastor, who attended services twice early this month despite government calls to cancel mass gatherings.
The vice health minister said people at the church had even rinsed their mouths using the same salt water sprayer in an ill-advised effort to disinfect themselves.
“That is an example of how misinformation could raise the risks of infection,” he said.
“Once again, we’re requesting the citizens to refrain from attending gatherings in enclosed space as much as possible.”


UK may be moving too slowly to tackle COVID-19 outbreak, government adviser says

Updated 44 min 17 sec ago

UK may be moving too slowly to tackle COVID-19 outbreak, government adviser says

  • Medley said SAGE had not discussed what impact the policy of closing hospitality services earlier would have on infection rates
  • Britain already has the highest death toll in Europe from COVID-19, at 41,936

LONDON: Britain could be moving too slowly to tackle the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases because of a lag between case numbers and deaths which means fatalities have remained relatively low, a government adviser said on Saturday.
Graham Medley, a professor of infectious disease modelling, said he worried the country could end up in a position it had tried to avoid.
“My concern is the lag, is the fact that we end up in a position that we didn’t intend to, either government or the population ..., because the numbers of deaths at the moment look very low, even though, as scientists, we say look infections are increasing,” he told BBC Radio.
“And unfortunately that lag means that we don’t act soon enough,” Medley, who attends the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which advises government, said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has imposed tougher restrictions in the last week to try to curb the spread of the virus, telling people to work from home if they can and ordering pubs and restaurants to close earlier.
Some politicians have questioned whether those measures go far enough however, with the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, telling households they also cannot mix indoors. Britain was slow to impose its first lockdown in March.
Medley said SAGE had not discussed what impact the policy of closing hospitality services earlier would have on infection rates.
Britain already has the highest death toll in Europe from COVID-19, at 41,936. While around 900 people died a day at the April peak of the pandemic, current death rates are around 30.
The Office for National Statistics said on Friday new cases in England had shot up to around 9,600 per day in the week to Sept. 19, up from around 6,000 the previous week.
Medley said that meant deaths would rise in three to four weeks to around 100 deaths a day. “And the things that we do now will not stop 100 people dying a day, but they will stop that progressing much higher,” he said.